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The European Union (EU) has been at the vanguard of passing forward-thinking energy efficiency policies over the past two decades, although it is still grappling with achieving full implementation of these policies. More recently, China has also been active in making energy efficiency a part of its national energy strategy. However, China has struggled to craft effective energy efficiency laws and to achieve implementation of these laws throughout the country. If successful, the potential for improvements and energy savings in China is tremendous. China has begun to decouple its GDP and its growth in energy consumption over the past twenty years,4 but it still uses five times as much energy as the EU to produce one unit of GDP because its gains in energy efficiency have not kept pace with its rapid growth. This inefficiency, coupled with the massive continued growth projected for China in the coming decades, creates opportunities to save (or waste) vast amounts of energy, depending on the extent to which China can implement effective energy efficiency policies.6 The Chinese government has made considerable progress in enacting new energy policies and in showing awareness of the energy challenges it faces. However, most commentators express doubt in the central government’s ability to implement and follow through on its stated policy goals. Experts identify implementation and enforcement of existing laws, as well as creating better incentives for investment in energy efficiency, as key goals for making energy efficiency a successful part of China’s energy future. This note seeks to detail the key strategies that the EU has adopted in the field of energy efficiency, and then to draw lessons from the EU’s experience that might be helpful as China moves forward in implementing its own energy efficiency policy. While the EU still has far to go in achieving its energy efficiency potential, its fifteen years of experience in crafting and implementing energy efficiency laws offer some valuable insights from its successes and persisting challenges. The EU is the focus of this note not only because of its leadership and voluminous activity in the field of energy efficiency, but also because its governmental structure parallels China’s in some instructive ways. That is, the EU’s supranational government oversees an incredibly diverse range of EU member states, each with national governments that diverge in priorities and capabilities. Similarly, China’s national government works with a diverse range of provincial governments that are in charge of much of the day-today implementation of national laws and policies. Thus, the lessons learned from the EU’s struggles with balancing responsibilities between levels of government may help China in its similar effort.


Comparative environmental policy, energy law

Publication Title

New York University Environmental Law Journal

Publication Citation

17 N. Y. U. Env't L. J. 1421 (2009)